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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Proof is in the Book

The galleys for Photo, Snap, Shot arrived on my doorstep last week. I'm knee-deep in proofing, an activity I simultaneously love and hate.

I love proofing because it gives me one more chance to polish my work. Midnight Ink is very good about allowing me to make changes. (I've worked with publishers before where there was a real fear that any substantive changes would mess up the pagination. But MI is great about this! And Connie, my editor, is a gem.)

At this stage, I come to my book with new eyes. Since each galley sheet shows the page as it will appear in my book, I see my work as a reader will.

What sorts of changes do I make?

1. I double-check for punctuation. Again, MI is very, very thorough, but I challenge myself to find anything missing. So far, I'm on page 134 out of 324 pages and I've found one period and a couple of commas. (All of which could have been my mistakes.) I also found an ending quotation mark missing.

2. I double-check for continuity. I'm trying to be more clear about sequencing and to give my readers more clarity as to the timing.

3. I check for readability. I found a section that my editor and I agree should be changed from expository to a dialogue between Kiki and another character.

4. I check for internal consistency. For example, I am concerned about the style of the words OPEN and CLOSED. Previously we didn't put quotation marks around them, because the all caps did the trick of setting them apart. In part of this book, we used quotation marks, and in another part, we didn't. I'll suggest we not use quotation marks.

5. I fact check. Because this book is complicated, and it involves a real but secret organization, I've spent literally hundreds of hours doing online research and combing through out-of-print books. I've also learned that facts can change, and links can disappear. So from now on, I'm going to print out my research as I go along. For this book, I've worked with librarians in St. Louis and at the American Holocaust Museum to get my facts right. God bless librarians!

6. I check usage. I wrote that a person was a "principle" in an accounting firm. My editor challenged that--and she was right! I still find myself looking up other words and double-checking meanings.

7. I make sure the chapter headings are in order. I even check that the page numbers are sequential.

8. I agonize over the dedication and the acknowledgements.

9. I get legal forms signed for the character naming privileges. This book has a character naming privilege that was auctioned off by a charity, and another privilege that I offered for a contest. I need to have those permission forms in hand before we go to press. Additionally, I used two friends' names in the book, so I emailed them and got their permission.

10. I'm working on getting coupons for the back of the book. I believe we'll have some exciting news in that regard.

Did I say I love proofreading?

I hate proofreading because it demands a total absorption of time, brain-power and effort. I am reading through the pages and typing up the corrections as well as marking them on the galley. (The changes written by hand can be hard to decipher. I want to be as clear as possible.) Meanwhile my husband is reading the book, and certain pages have been marked for sending to experts in medicine and Judaism for fact-checking.

When that's done, I'll do an "all at one time" reading to find tiny gaps in logic and continuity. For example, if a character has seen something on page 42, he can't claim he didn't see it on page 83. I'll also be looking for continuity within the series. For example, the school colors of CALA, the mythical school I created, are gold and royal blue. But in one spot, I had the golfers in my book wearing the wrong colored shirts!

Why do I spend so much time proofing? This takes me at least two solid weeks of work. Maybe three.

I do it because I want to produce the best possible entertainment for my readers. I want to make sure that nothing interferes with your reading pleasure, that nothing jerks you out of the story and back into reality until you reach the words "The End."

Every minute I spend toward that goal is totally worthwhile. Even if sometimes, I'm just positive it's going to drive me nuts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Am Not My Hair...Or Am I?

One of the toughest tasks for any newcomer is replacing services. So after our move, I set about systematically replacing my beloved vet, cleaning person, and hairdresser.
Ow. I'd like to think I'm not my hair. That I am me, and if my hair turns white (which it sort of did) or turd-murkle brown (which it definitely was), that my happy place won't disappear.
But it did. Golly, did it ever. See, my first venture to a hairstylist gained me excellent color, but the stylist/owner fobbed me off on an employee who got angry and burned my scalp repeatedly while drying my hair. Even when I complained, she kept on applying the heat.
Next, I went to a lady who decided my hair should be brown. She did a wizard cut--which can be hard on curly hair--but brown? Ugh. But the cut was really, really good, and she did offer to lighten it up. So I went back to her and said that it was, indeed, too dark. So she put the coloring on my hair, redecorated her salon (no lie, she was futzing around with the Christmas tree and the wreaths and the ornaments on her shelves), and then we had the following exchange:
Me: You've lived here a long time. Do you know the Salahis? The husband and wife who crashed the White House State Dinner?
Hairdresser/Salon Owner: Yes, I do. I've been on their yacht. You know, he was a perfectly nice young man. Very sweet. Good to his parents. And then he met that...that...that BLONDIE!
Need I tell you that my hair color was pretty darn weird? Like a bleached out lemon rind.
So I went to another hairdresser. (Are you counting? If I haven't left anyone out, we're up to four in four months now.) This salon kept sending me invitations as a "newcomer" to try them out. The place proved almost impossible to find. The stylist was nice...but she added so many low lights, my hair was back to...ugh...some disgusting shade of mud.
I went around all week avoiding mirrors. My husband said, "It's not too bad." Which is code for, "I won't divorce you."
Finally, in desperation, I went to a salon in the mall and threw myself on their mercy. "Can anyone here help me?"
And a nice man did. Then, because we were BOTH worried about the color, he dried my hair. The stylist made my hair straight, as you can see from the photo of me and Debbi Mack at a signing at The Little Professor Book Center in Eldersburg, MD.
It's still not me.
I'm a curly girl.
But it's close.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bits and Pieces for Friday

Here's a round-up of information, ideas, quotes and trends you'll want to explore:

1. Trade Paperbacks Surge in Popularity

A mass market paperback is one of those smaller paperbacks like you buy in a drugstore. A trade paperback is larger, maybe 5 x 7 inches or 6 x 8, inches and it's almost a cross between a paperback book and a hardcover. Hardcovers are very pricey, except that many discount big box stores like Kmart and Target discount them heavily. Booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Borders and Books-a-Million also discount them. To me, the biggest problem is weight. Yeah, with the cost of additional luggage constantly rising, a hardback book--although that's my preference for the joy of the experience and for the longevity of the product itself--is too darn heavy to cart around.

2. E. Desmond Lee, St. Louis Philanthropist, Dies

I can't begin to list all the ways that Des Lee influenced St. Louis with his generosity. His name appears all over town on buildings and in hallways. I remember when my husband David first met him. Des Lee wanted to know all about my husband, which I think was probably a clue as to why Des was such a treasure: Despite his own illustrious career and his business success, he genuinely cared about others.

3. This from a New York Times article, a quotation about whether there's any merit to being private (as opposited to using to Twitter to record one's every waking moment) attributed to the poet C.K. Williams--

More and more lately, as, not even minding the slippages yet, the aches and sad softenings, I settle into my other years, I notice how many of what I once thought were evidences of repression, sexual or otherwise, now seem, in other people anyway, to be varieties of dignity, withholding, tact.

In other words...maybe conducting your person business over a cell phone in a crowded public place is NOT the height of cool, folks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

That's a question people often ask.

Honestly, my ideas come from all over the place. Although I have to admit, my best resource is print media, particularly the newspapers that show up in my driveway every morning.

Here's a sampling:

1. Obits--I love reading them. I'm always sad that I've missed the pleasure of meeting so many fascinating people. That said, their obits both inspire and tickle me. Today, the Washington Post ran an obit for Jean Carroll, a comedian who could "see the humor in the human predicament." (Yeah, it is a bit of a predicament, isn't it?)

Jean said, "People are never satisfied. Lawyers want to be doctors. Single men wish they were married. Married men wish they were dead."

And this...Jean discussed her married life, explaining that she told her husband, "Tonight you are really going to enjoy yourself." His response? "Why? You leaving me?"

2. News articles--In either the Post or the NYT appeared an article by Marc Lacey with this stunning opener: "When it comes to gore, Mexico's drug traffickers seem to compete among themselves for the title of most depraved." Among their ucky activities were these: chopping off the heads of rivals, stringing dead rivals from bridges, burning their genitals, and the clincher...removing the face from a dead man and sewing it onto a soccer ball. ("Honey? Have you seen my sewing kit?")

In a game of one-upsmanship, now a drug lord is boiling the remains of his rivals in lye, in "what has become known as pozole, for Mexican stew." ("Cancel that reservation to eat Mexican tonight, sweetheart.")

And then there are other ways I collect ideas--

1. Phone calls--A business associate of my husband used to work as a boat captain. T.S. told David that he will never, ever eat crabs because he saw too many of them munching on the leftovers of dead people. (Call Weight Watchers! I have a new and improved dieting trick.)

2. Guest speakers--Last night Peter Earnest from the International Spy Museum spoke to our local Mystery Writers of America group. According to Peter, our national defenses get one MILLION attacks a day from hackers looking at our intelligence defenses or trying to deposit Trojans into our national computer systems. President Obama has recently named someone to look into this...but our own FBI has not been able to complete the installation of a computer system, a system that we recognized the need for after 9/11.

Peter characterized this as "a huge threat. Who's to say there are ways we are being had we don't even know about."

I mentioned to Peter that most of the books we read portray spies as dashing men. "Do you ever use middle-aged women?" He told me they use all sorts of people in all walks of life. He also told our group that during his years as a covert agent, "our wives were drawn increasingly into operations. They were very good, often better (than the men were) at assessing people."

Best of all, I love it when there's an intersection of what I see/hear/read in the media with my own life. Here are two examples.

1. Heighted Security at Airports? (I don't think so!) Our family was flying back from Orlando on December 28, after the incident in Detroit. We expected heightened security, although the level has been ORANGE for as long as I can recall. We had a question about our seating, which we asked as we checked in our luggage. Guess what? The agents never asked to see our IDs. They got all caught up looking at their screens and seating charts, that they lost track of what they were doing and simply put our luggage on the conveyor belt. Obviously, there's no heuristic device that agents must manually check to affirm they've performed this simple security check.

2. But She's Getting All That Money! I'm a big fan of getting my shoes polished by the shoe shine guys at Nordstroms. Recently I was waiting in line with a bunch of businessmen when they started chatting about Tiger Woods and his wife Elin. "He's cheated on her, but she's going to get a lot of money," several of them said. Oh, really? I contended that Tiger Woods wouldn't be worth what he is today had he not been a married man. After all, the bulk of his wealth comes from endorsements, not tournament winnings. This month's Vanity Fair Magazine supports my contention that he only got married for his image. Sorry...Elin can't possibly be paid enough--and probably won't be--to compensate for that sort of disrespect.

And strange little aside.

As some of you know, I've been posting a lot on Facebook about the fox in our backyard. My vet explained two reasons NOT to feed foxes and to steer clear of them: Scabies and rabies. Turns out the local foxes are magnets for a parasitic mange (scabies) and often are carriers of rabies. So, cute as Mr. Fox is...I'm keeping my distance and I'm only letting my dogs outside on a leash!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Mother's Last Gift

Tonight or tomorrow the ornaments will come down. The tree will go out in the trash or in the back of our lot where the fox might use it for shelter. All the holiday trinkets will be wrapped in tissue paper. They'll go back into plastic boxes, to be carried down to the basement and stored for another year.
I will linger over each ornament, but one in particular will be hard to put away. This small Bichon in a stocking (above) is a very, very special ornament. Not just because it's cute, or because it's different, but because it marks the end of an era.
We have a tradition. On Christmas Day, one member of our family (my mother) would direct the opening of the gifts. She'd pass them out and make sure every person had something in hand. Then she'd allow us to open up, and oooohs and aaaaahs would ensue. We'd all examine our gifts--examine everyone else's gifts--and wait for Mom to pass out more presents. There was a strict sense of ritual to all this. But as constrictive as it sometimes felt, we all loved it. Mom's method assured us that each and every person had something to open. Each and every gift was given its due amount of appreciation.
This year, we celebrated Christmas in a hotel room outside of Disney World. At a Walgreens, I found a darling little Christmas tree made of curls of gold wire and hung with beads. This I put on a table in the middle of our hotel room in the Omni at Champion's Gate. Then my family gathered around.
The passing around of the presents was a bit more sedate. We felt Mom's absence keenly. My sister Margaret orchestrated some of the distribution and opening of gifts. But it was a bit more, um, haphazard without Mom doing her combination marinet and benevolent Santa routine. We were all opening gifts while fighting painful lumps in our throats.
My gifts for my sisters caused teary eyes. Years ago, I'd taken Mom to an art fair where a silhouette artist had cut her profile freehand using sharp scissors. During our move to the metro DC area, I'd uncovered these. So I framed them for Jane and Margaret. (I scanned one for myself, and it's on my computer, but I gave them the originals.)
After all the packages were unwrapped, Meg said, "There's one gift left. It's for Jonie." (That's my nickname.)
Meg handed it over. "This was the only Christmas gift Mom bought before she died."
Inside was the Bichon ornament.

Friday, January 1, 2010

That Compulsion Known as Writing

I spent the holiday with my family in Disney World. I can't tell you if it's the happiest place on earth, but on December 26, it might have been one of the coldest. I did get to go through the Haunted House twice, so that made ME a happy camper.

I wandered out of the spooky mansion, noticed this gypsy caravan, and took it for an omen. I choose to believe with all my heart that good times are ahead for me in my chosen profession.

See, I've always wanted to be an author--and I've always moved toward that goal.

I started writing "books" when I was seven. Back then I stapled together sheets of paper and decorated the covers. I wrote poetry inside.

I started winning awards for my work when I was in middle school. I started an authorized newspaper back in Griffith (IN) High School and nearly got kicked out of school for it. (The stupid journalism teacher was angry that my readership was higher than hers. Wonder where she is now. Who cares, right?) The next year I wrote a musical. Yes, you read that right. As a high school senior, I wrote a musical complete with songs, music and full three act script.

My friend Doug Brendel even helped with some of the lyrics. He survived, apparently unblemished. Doug is now a missionary who makes regular trips to Bellarus. Check him out:

Doug and I and our third amigo, Bill LaDow, all became authors. Bill wrote a biography of racing giant Ray Nichels. Check it out:

My point? Early on, I recognized in others that spark, that drive toward creativity. And when you hang with other authors, it rubs off. Oh, I don't think we ever sat around and said, "Gee, I'd like to write a book when I grow up." In fact, I know we didn't. But we saw in each other a different type of thinking, a way of processing the world that demanded we express ourselves.

When people find out that I'm an author, they often confide, "I'd like to write a book." Some even say, "I should write a book." Or even, "I could write a book."

I always try to answer their questions honestly. Or to encourage them. Most of them walk away unhappy. They want me to do more. One woman wrote last week and asked me to help her "make the connections I need to get published." A younger woman slipped me a note with her email address. "I need you to help me write my book," she said. "I've gotten it started, but I need help."

Sorry. It doesn't work like that. I sure wish it did, but it doesn't.

What I really should tell them is: Go lie down and hope the urge will pass.

It's a hard road, and there's no clear path. I don't think any two of my author friends has the same publication story. I think the road ahead will get murkier for the publishing industry. Almost all the names on the bestseller lists these days are authors who've been publishing for a while. "Guaranteed" bestsellers, if you will.

But as Nancy Pickard said at Bouchercon, the only part of this that we can control is our willingness to sit down and write. And when we write, we can only work as hard as possible to deliver the best possible story.

Clearly for me, this writing "thang" is a compulsion. It's how I survive. How I make sense (when I do make sense) of the world. It's something I can't live without.